A little over a year ago I wrote a novella called Flesh and Fire. The first draft was completed in three weeks in one of those enviable bouts of inspiration that all of us writers wish would happen a lot more often. To use an old cliche, the story wrote itself. Even in the middle, when I started to have doubts, all it took was one half hour walk through the woods for me to work out where the story was going to go and how it was going to get there. It came real easy.
The story follows Todd, a successful, yet unhappy middle-aged man with a family life that’s falling apart and a job he’s grown to hate. When he was a younger man, he gave up the love of his life, Chloe, for the life that he thought that he wanted. One day on the way to work, he runs into her, which would be great, except she’s been dead for thirty years. She tells him that she’s on the run from Hell and needs his help. In pursuit is the sadistic Samael, a human monster whose been in Hell so long that he’s learned to enjoy it, and Chloe was by far his favorite toy. When he gets a hold of Todd’s wife and daughter, Todd has to make a choice between saving his one true love and protecting his family.
Sounds fun, right? I thought so.
So I sent my novella out into the treacherous world of submissions. I eagerly awaited to hear the glorious, “yes,” but was often given the less desirable, “it was great, but…” Yes, friends, I’m talking about rejection, but that’s okay. Rejection letters just mean you’ve graduated from aspiring writer to real writer (since I’ve had short stories published, I guess I’m already one of those). Besides, even rejection letters are preferrable to the ominous nonresponse.
It’s been a year, give or take. A great one, at that. I got married. I travelled most of the southern part of the U.S. I’ve written a ton of short stories, and I’ve gotten a couple of acceptances (one in Death Head Grin’s second anthology, and another that I’m not allowed to talk about yet). I have a job, which is always something to be grateful for in these times. Through it all, Flesh and Fire has been at the back of my mind. Between that and my short story Welcome to Video Babylon (which has been accepted twice, both by anthologies that that didn’t work out *sigh*), I feel it’s some of my best work. Of course, novellas are a tough sell. From what I’ve seen they’re mostly sold as Limited Editions by people way more famous than me or in themed anthologies.
But, damn it, I believed in the story.
And I believed in it right up until I attended the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. It was my first conference, and I got a lot out of it. Caridad Pineiro’s workshop touched a lot on world-building and mythology. Flesh and Fire has a mythos of its own, based around a really negative idea about what the afterlife may be like, while also providing a solution as to how people can escape it. It’s there, and it’s the driving element of the story. That said, when you have a mythology and an alternate world that your characters inhabit, the possibilities are really endless. I only explored one, and what I got was a fast-paced, fun (I hope) chase story.
With these ideas about world-building, and expanding on the world I had built, I recently reread Flesh and Fire. First, I was made painfully aware how much I’d grown as a writer over the last year (ideally no writer ever stops getting better). Secondly, I realized that what I had with my manuscript was a skeleton of a much larger beast. As friend and fellow writer Jon McGoran said, that’s not a bad problem to have with a novella.
The rewrites began about a week and a half ago. Even though the piece has been marinating for a little over a year, I’m pleased to say that the passion that drove the story last year is still with me. I’m having a ball tearing it to pieces and reconstructing it, and I’m thoroughly enjoying putting meat on these bones. Working with the characters again is like seeing old friends. What I hope to have when I’m done is something that’s richer, more saleable, and as fun for you to read as it was for me to write.
It was 22,000 words and I’m aiming for somewhere between 50 and 80,000. Don’t wait up for me, kids, I may be out on this bad boy all night, every night.